The Beast of Borneo (1934)

Article #765 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-19-2003
Posting Date: 9-16-2003
Directed by Harry Garson
Featuring John Preston, Mae Stuart, Eugene Sigaloff

A scientist experimenting with orangutans hires a guide to lead him to Borneo and capture a full-grown orang.

The ad that comes on the cover of this movie talks about horrible rejuvenation experiments involving gorilla glands; if the ad is indeed for this movie (there is apparently a 1944 movie of the same name), then it is an incredibly inaccurate ad. First of all, the movie deals with orangs rather than gorillas; second, the concept of rejuvenation was never mentioned. In fact, this movie skirts both science fiction and horror without ever really becoming either one of them; it is a marginal jungle movie, and not a particularly good one, either, as it never really works up much in the way of energy or suspense. It does have a few points of interest; the bad guy is named Boris Borodoff and has a Bela Lugosi accent; the baby orang Joe is apparently the greatest escape artist since Houdini, and if the sound that the orang makes is really what they sound like, then the jungle needs an emergency shipment of Ex-Lax pronto.


City Beneath the Sea (1971)

Article #764 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2003
Posting Date: 9-15-2003
Directed by Irwin Allen
Featuring Stuart Whitman, Robert Wagner, Rosemary Forsyth

A former builder of an undersea city takes over administration of the area to face an impending crisis.

This is the first time I’ve touched on Irwin Allen since covering the very atypical THE ANIMAL WORLD; this TV-movie pilot for an unsold series is much more along the lines of what I’d expect. Many people who saw it when they were children loved it, and actually I can see why; the movie is chock-full of science fiction eye-candy and always has something happening; if you popped into it in the middle of the movie, you’d probably see something interesting going on. Unfortunately, it has problems. The movie relies on the recognition factor of seeing celebrities in cameo roles rather than fleshing out its important characters; all the ones who would have been regulars on the series are about as one-dimensional as possible. The character conflicts are hackneyed, cliched and uninspired, and are resolved in the most obvious ways possible. The movie has some of the most badly-written exposition I’ve ever heard. And finally, the whole movie feels silly, contrived and scientifically suspect. Of course, none of this would matter to a youngster dazzled by the eye candy and thrilled by the action; nor would it matter to an adult with fond memories of the movie. Nonetheless, without any real interesting characters, it’s easy to see why this pilot was never sold.

The Bad Seed (1956)

Article #763 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-17-2003
Date Posted: 9-14-2003
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Featuring Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones

When a little boy drowns at a school picnic, the mother of one of his classmates discovers that her daughter is in possession of a medal that belonged to the boy. She begins to suspect her daughter of murder.

I’m not going to mince words here; I loathe this movie. These are the reasons why.

1) The script is overwritten. The movie is crowded with lines that sound more like they came off of a typewriter than out of a person’s mouth.

2) The little girl’s performance is problematic (and I’m being nice in using that word). She’s so obviously a manipulative psychopath that I find it impossible to believe that anybody would fall for her manipulative schemes, particularly anyone who knew her well.

3) The movie is enamored with its own themes. The basic theme that murderous personalities may be (in some cases) the result of heredity rather than environment is dwelled on endlessly and repeatedly, almost as if the writer felt it was the most brilliant theme ever devised and wanted to make sure nobody missed the message.

4) The deus ex machina ending is one of the most stupidly convenient in cinema history.

5) Practically everyone in the cast is acting way over the top; however, this may not be their fault. The movie was obviously shot to emulate the stage version of the story as much as possible, and I’ve once heard stage acting described as having to be loud enough to project subtlety to the back seats of the balcony. In a movie, this is not necessary; the camera renders this type of acting not only unnecessary, but annoying. As it is, this movie has people shouting at me almost nonstop for more than two hours.

…and finally,

6) It didn’t need to be this way. The story is a very good one at heart, and the actors are a very talented bunch. Had they been allowed to play it like a movie, and to tone down their performances to a level where they could express themselves in more conversational tones and more endurable volumes so we could appreciate the subtleties of the situations, this could have been a real humdinger of a movie. It would have worked; the actors were highly capable of pulling this off. I would have actually believed that these characters were real people; as it is, I’m constantly taken out of the moment by the fact that I’m watching “actors” in the process of “acting”, and this ruins the movie for me. In a sense, I can appreciate the audaciousness of trying to emulate a stage performance, but the end result is (IMHO) a disaster. Since the movie is sitting with a 7.2 rating on IMDB, I am fully aware that I am in the minority as far as this movie goes, and it always feels a little lonely to disagree with so many people, but to me, the movie is a botched affair.

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

Article #762 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-16-2003
Date Posted: 9-13-2003
Directed by John Sherwood
Featuring Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden

The creature is captured by a rich scientist who transforms him into an air-breather.

You know, I really can’t help but admire this movie in some ways; it really tries to take a different direction than the other movies of the series, there’s more meat in the philosophical discussions than you might expect, and the conversion of the creature from a water animal to a land one puts the creature in a position that what he really wants (to return to the water) will kill him, which is an interesting idea to play with. Unfortunately, it’s hampered by a few drawbacks. The direction is pretty uninspired throughout; though John Sherwood had a long career as a second unit director, this was one of only three movies he actually helmed. Also, as much as I like Jeff Morrow, he’s playing a fairly difficult character here, and I feel (IMHO) that it remained somewhat out of his range as an actor. But the most disappointing part of the movie is watching the sleek, lithe, classically designed Creature transformed into the slow-moving, lumbering and bulky land-walker; it’s a little like seeing Fred Astaire transformed into Tor Johnson, and though I like Tor, I wouldn’t pay to see him dance with Ginger Rogers. There are certain pleasures here, and it is an interesting movie to think about after it’s all finished, but it’s one movie that really could have been a lot better.

The Abominable Snowman (1957)

Article #761 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-15-2003
Date Posted: 9-12-2003
Directed by Val Guest
Featuring Peter Cushing, Forrest Tucker, Maureen Connell

A scientist accompanies an opportunist on an expedition to track down the Yetis.

To say that this is the best Yeti movie I’ve seen so far isn’t saying much; that just means it’s a better movie than either THE SNOW CREATURE or MAN BEAST, a feat that isn’t particularly difficult. To say it’s the best genre movie I’ve seen with Forrest Tucker is somewhat better, placing it above THE CRAWLING EYE, anyway. I’m not sure I can say it’s the best Peter Cushing genre movie; he’s had so many good ones, but I will say I found this one scarier, more suspenseful and more thoughtful than any of Hammer’s Frankenstein or Dracula movies I’ve seen to date. One thing I definitely won’t say is that it’s the best movie I’ve seen with Nigel Kneale’s name attached to it, not with the Quatermass movies out there. However, the fact that Nigel Kneale’s name IS attached to this one goes a long way to explaining its strengths; a thoughtful storyline, well-developed characters, subtlety, and a real sense of tension as the screws start to tighten are all here, and they’re all aspects I’ve come to expect from him. The most unexpected pleasure I got from the movie came out of left field, though; I wouldn’t have anticipated that Forrest Tucker and Peter Cushing would have had such chemistry together. As it is, they play off of each other’s strengths beautifully, and it is a joy to watch them talk with each other. This is good, because there is a lot of talk in this movie, and they go the extra mile to make it fascinating.

The Triumph of Hercules (1964)

Article #760 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-14-2003
Date Posted: 9-11-2003
Directed by Alberto de Martino
Featuring Dan Vadis, Moira Orfei, Marilu Tolo

Hercules is called upon to avenge the murder of a king.

During the first five minutes of this movie I saw two elements that I have seen umpteen times before in Sword and Sandal movies; a bunch of helmeted horsemen fighting peasants in a village, and the assassination of a king by a pretender to the throne. This, combined with the fact that Hercules was played by someone who I’ve never heard of (Dan Vadis) led me to suspect that I was going to see nothing more than the usual S & S spectacle. Then I noticed something odd; I could actually follow the plot! I didn’t need a scorecard to keep track of the characters, and in every scene I knew what was going on and why the people were there and what they were doing. Now with most other genres, to praise a movie by saying the story is coherent is to damn it with faint praise; in a Sword and Sandal movie, it’s such a rarity, that I have to marvel at actually getting lost in the story. Not that the story is great; it’s pretty standard stuff, but (here I go again) YOU CAN FOLLOW IT! It even has some great comic relief scenes, including a scene where Hercules tussles with some golden musclemen, and a sequence involving pickpockets and a monkey who manages to get hold of a magic knife. And there’s not a single temple dance in the whole thing! And you can follow the plot!!!!

It’s amazing how watching too many of these things can lower your expectations so much that you really learn to count your blessings.

X (1963)

X (1963)
Article #759 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-13-2003
Date Posted: 9-10-2003
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Ray Milland, Diana Van Der Vlis, Harold J. Stone

A doctor experiments with a serum that will increase his range of vision, and it begins to drive him mad.

This is (IMHO) Roger Corman’s masterpiece; personally, I don’t think he’s ever worked with a better script than the one he has here. It’s also blessed with a great performance by Ray Milland, a variety of good performances by a number of familiar faces (you will find Don Rickles, John Hoyt, Dick Miller, Morris Ankrum and John Dierkes all on hand), an array of fascinating characters, and a story that really explores the possibilities of its theme (when this idea is generally used, it almost always focuses merely on the titillating experience of seeing through clothes and little else), but also works double time as a metaphor for drug addiction as well. It also has one of the most unforgettable shock endings in all of fantastic cinema, and if you remember nothing else, the ending will haunt you forever. Special kudos go to Robert Dillon and Ray Russell for the screenplay.

Warning From Space (1956)

Article #758 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-12-2003
Date Posted: 9-9-2003
Directed by Koji Shima
Featuring Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu

A starfish-shaped alien from outer space attempts to make contact with a professor.

You have to put a bit of concentration into some of these Japanese science fiction epics, partially because the bad dubbing can actually obscure your comprehension at times, and partly because the plot lines can be all over the board. This one has plot similarities to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, among others, and the plot emphasis can often shift so quickly that a short trip to the refrigerator is enough to throw you off. This one can be split into three different sections, each with a slightly different feel; it is moderately entertaining and at times more effective than you’d think. The worst problems are the aliens; they resemble starfish with eyes in their centers, and are obviously just people in starfish costumes with their legs apart and sticking their arms out (which is why you never see them move). Stills from this movie led me to believe they were giant, but that is not the case. Once again, a subtitled version would help immensely.

The Time of Their Lives (1946)

Article #757 by Dave Sindelar
Date Viewed: 4-11-2003
Date Posted: 9-8-2003
Directed by Charles Barton
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marjorie Reynolds

A tinker and a nobleman’s wife are mistaken for traitors during the revolutionary war. They are shot, and their bodies left in a well with a curse on their spirits. They return as ghosts, but it is not until many years later that they are allowed to prove their innocence.

There are a couple of ways to approach this movie. From a standpoint of it being an Abbott and Costello movie (i.e. a movie by the team), it is disappointing; they only have one scene together as characters who know each other, and it is fairly short and doesn’t allow them to indulge in their usual team antics. However, if seen from the angle of a movie that is not a vehicle for the team, but rather just featuring both members of the team in distinct roles, it is very interesting indeed. It may well be the most solid movie they’ve done from the standpoint of story, and as distinct characters rather than team members, both Bud and Lou are given a much wider range of acting space than they would have otherwise. The revolutionary-war period of the movie has a great deal of period charm, and the latter part of the movie (it’s a haunted house movie told from the point of view of the ghosts, which is a rather unique approach) achieves a certain ambience, and though the movie could have been converted to a team vehicle (with a little work, the Marjorie Reynolds role could have been changed around to work for Bud Abbott), I think it would have lost that ambience. In some ways, it is one of the strongest ghost stories of the forties. My only complaint is that Gale Sondergaard’s role could have been given more dimension than it has; she does well, but there really isn’t a whole lot to it.

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Article #756 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-10-2003
Posting Date: 9-7-2003
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Featuring Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas

Giant scorpions come out of a volcano in Mexico.

With Willis O’Brien helming the special effects, this should be a decent movie from that aspect, and for the most part it is; the scorpion attack footage is exciting, thrilling, and fun. Unfortunately, there are problems; for one, the special effects were never adaquately finished, so some scenes are hampered by having only a black outline of the scorpion rather than the scorpion itself. There are also certain sequences that are repeated; in particular, a scene where the scorpion takes down a helicopter is repeated only about a half minute after it is first used, and a sequence in which a line of scorpions emerge from a cave gets the repeat treatment. Also, the large model head used in some of the scenes is obviously not that of the scorpion in the animated sequences, and you really get tired of the repeated shots of this head drooling. The surrounding footage is variable, but it is helped by the eerie volcano locations used in the movie; in particular, a sequence involving a gas station in the opening scenes is very well done. Unfortunately, the script is somewhat unfocused, in that it never seems quite sure how to approach telling the story, and though Richard Denning and Mara Corday are charming enough as the romantic leads, the movie is singularly short of interesting characters; the only memorable one is one of those children who are supposed to be cute and winsome, but keep coming along when they’re not wanted and putting the adults in danger when they try to save them. The movie also makes the mistake of completely losing all sense of tension and suspense after the cave sequence, rather than trying to hold the audience’s interest from that point until the big finish. It’s not bad, overall, but it could have been one of the best of the big bug movies (I’m not sure if scorpions could be called bugs, but they’re close enough for me), but as it is, it falls a little short.